Nat Worship Festival

The Nat festival has long been associated with the gay, lesbian and transgender community.


Selasa, 08 Okt 2013 09:38 WIB


Ali Fowle DVB

Nat Worship Festival

Burma, Nat worship, LGBT, DVB

Moe Thiha is not a typical religious leader.

He is a spirit medium for Nat Worship, a form of animism associated with Buddhism.

The mediums dress in women’s clothing and lead vibrant ceremonies full of dancing, music and drinking.

“I like it because I have money from it. As we have to dress like this and dance as a Nat, I feel very good and happy to do this. I feel pleasant when I am dancing and plus I earn money from it.”

Nat worship is an ancient tradition in Myanmar, and has long been associated with the gay and transgender community, due to the elaborate feminine costumes.

The country’s largest spirit festival, Taung Pyome, held annually just outside Mandalay. It has become rare opportunity for the LGBT community to dress and act freely.

U Tin Maung is the head Nat communicator.

“Gay people from different towns all come and gather here. They feel melancholy so this place becomes a gathering point for them. In the spirit festival they don’t need to declare they are gay. They can just join the festival happily.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Myanmar. 

Although the law is not often enforced it is used as an excuse for ill treatment - the community suffers from discrimination and ridicule.

As a result working in Nat worship has become an obvious career choice, says Moe Thiha.

“Most gay or transgender men work as Nat Kadaws. While working, they can wear make-up. Transgender people are reluctant to do male activities because of their mindset and they want to concentrate on female activities. So some become make-up professionals. Many prefer to have their make-up done by transgender rather than women.”

ALSO READ: Vietnam's First Gay Sitcom 

Thein Thein lives as a woman – together with her lover as husband and wife. 

But they cannot be open in the wider community like they can in this festival.

“I still don't have the feeling of freedom until today coming here. Just feel being recognized. The government still don't recognize us as husband and wife. We are living like this with understanding each other.”

But the festival does not just attract gay couples.

Many single people come here, looking for homosexual or transgender sex, no matter what their sexual orientation. 

In a festival where alcohol flows freely, that when the night falls the festival has gained a reputation for promiscuity and health risks.

Hla Myat Tun is programme officer from Colours Rainbow.

“Many people abuse this festival, and just go there just to hook up. Because of these behaviours those in society do not respect the LGBT.”

There is no distinction between being gay and transgender and all terms in Myanmar used to describe the LGBT community have a derogatory tone.

Moe Thiha decided to become a Nat Kadaw because he loves to dance and dress up.  But he is still unsure of how to define himself.

“Well how to say, yeah I'm kind of gay. I live with that mind. I live like a woman. There are lots of men like this. For me, I love to do art. Maybe I'm a gay who wants to do art more.”

READ MORE: Burmese Gay Slowly Come Out 

Festivals like this means once a year judgement is put aside and anyone, no matter what their sexual orientation can act freely and openly.

But even here understanding of the LGBT community is still limited.

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